Meet the Porsche 918 Spyder.
This is it, decades Porsche sports and racing development culminating into one, million-dollar package. wheels’ Dejan Jovanovic drives the new 918 Spyder at Valencia’s Ricardo Tormo circuit
Make no mistake; this is a carbon chassis, cut slicks, ceramic brakes, aero package sort of super sportscar, with a race-derived engine mid-mounted and making 132 horsepower per litre.
The new million-dollar 918 Spyder does exactly what you’d expect a Carrera GT successor to do, leaving your hands trembling after six hot laps of Valencia’s 4.0km Ricardo Tormo circuit. Around its 14 turns, the 918 moves underneath you, shimmies and jiggles provocatively. It’s got a wonderful Lightweight seats don’t fit everybody, but they afford a great view balance and every level of driver can enjoy its capabilities because the car demonstrates sharpened focus whether you’re on the limit or at five-tenths.
Like all memorable mid-engined supercars, when you lift off the throttle abruptly through a turn, and especially down some esses, it will swing out from the centre. It’s patient and only if you do nothing the electronics will interrupt to sort it out. You can pump the throttle through a corner and upset the car just a bit. You can brake hard over crests and hooked braking areas and simply let the rear lift and slip in slow motion, slipping always within a driver’s grasp.
As it’s so intuitive to keep it balanced and needs such slight reactions, it seems that the car’s always grounded and the 1,674kg mass in check, the weight transfer sloshing about within a compact circle around the car’s low centre of gravity (right at the wheel-hub level). It’s a special experience, 900bhp and the implication of that ancestry – 550 Spyder, 904, 911 Turbo, 959, 911 GT1, Carrera GT… 918 Spyder. A racing-obsessed marque’s history, and future, neatly wrapped in carbon fibre. The other thing about the 918 Spyder is that it also has some batteries on board. When you’re done obliterating a race track you can switch the drive mode to E-Power and cruise home in silent, zero-emissions electric mode, provided you live no more than 30km away… But even if you do, the vehicle will switch to Hybrid mode and sip 3.0 litres per 100km. Put the savings into stacks of Michelins.
So it’s an environmentally friendly hybrid, but one with a missile-launch button, a Boost display and a Hot Lap mode. Press it and records tumble.
The batteries begin their supply of 210 surging kilowatts and the 4.6-litre V8 barrages your back with 608bhp worth of artillery fire. Two stocky exhaust pipes burst out of the top to shout a bullying, mocking battle cry in the face of efficiency claims. Yes, it can do 3.0 litres per 100km, but the naturally aspirated engine derived from an RS Spyder prototype racer and its blitzkrieg power delivery suspend any thoughts of economy.
The 918 project leader Michael Hölscher said it best, “[The Spyder] is
not an environmental direction.” You don’t say… Zero to 100kph in 2.6 seconds, 0-200kph in 7.2 seconds, 300kph from rest in under 20 seconds with the lightweight Weissach package, a 10-second quarter mile and a top speed of 345kph. Saving the polar bears one lap record at a time…
Porsche took the carbon fibrereinforced plastic know-how gained with the RS Spyder motorsport project and evolved that for the 918, then combined it with a plug-in system similar to that of a GT3 R Hybrid racer.
In the end you get three power units. One electric motor powers the front axle and the second helps the internal combustion V8 at the rear for a total system output of 887bhp. Hölscher and his team had three years of development time to reach this stage – more than 500 units of the 918 total run are already spoken for, with a flood of signatures pouring in right after Porsche published its 6:57 minutes Nürburgring lap time.
Lexus, for example, took five years to develop the new IS and famously needed a decade to make up its mind about the LFA. And yet given just three years, Zuffenhausen rolled out a physical, snarling, hissing, whirring symbol demonstrating eight decades of Porsche engineering. A symbol that seems defined as much by its obsessive function as its uncharacteristically (if I may say so, regarding traditional Porsche styling…) beautiful form. The Ricardo Tormo circuit sits in a natural bowl, with the pits framing the main straight and a stadium grandstand enveloping the rest of the track. From the Porsche garage I can catch the liquid silver 918 Spyder lapping at the far end. It looks organic at speed, like a globule of mercury hurtling around inside a spoon. It’s just incredible to see and look at, so much like a contemporary German Silver Arrow. Even with design being subjective, the least you can give it is it’s unmistakably Porsche in the main character cues, Stuttgart’s finest son. The marque’s methodology and penchants are in every nut, bolt and fibrous weave.
The interior fits me perfectly. This is one of the few cars I can sit in low and upright and look well down on the pronounced signature fenders. Everything you need is on the steering wheel and the little gear toggle is on the right where you’d usually find a key slot. The Porsche’s, of course, is on the left.
At first you can’t tell what you’re in for. The finishing is immaculate but strangely, there are no incitements from the interior’s design to ogle, stroke and explore the cabin surfaces and materials. It’s something you normally do upon first stepping into a Bugatti or Rolls-Royce, but here the moment you drop into the semi-adjustable racing bucket seat, your eyes just fix themselves straight ahead, peering through the windscreen at the flickering green light, an invitation for the pit exit.
I grip the wheel – thin-rimmed, not too small and perfectly round; in other words, just right – and acknowledge its and the instrument display’s presence in my peripheral vision. As first impressions go, I already feel like giving the 918 my spare house key.
Like I said, on the circuit it’s tremendous, involving and scary just the right amount – if it was a movie it wouldn’t be a slasher horror, but rather a psychological thriller, chilling and suspenseful but you really want to stick around to the end.
The car actually feels lighter than its quoted 1,674kg, probably because the last Porsche I drove was the new Turbo S and that weighs almost exactly the same amount, although there’s no disguising it in the 911. It’s also down to the fact that 918 engineers kept every component heavier than 50kg arranged as deeply and centrally as possible, ensuring a load distribution of 43:57 front to rear. All the chassis components, tub and subframes are carbon fibre-reinforced plastic, direction-dependent for specific purposes in terms of the composite’s weave, and the minutiae extends to the engine’s air box integrated as a stressed part of the structure. Yet the optional Weissach package cuts a further 41kg off the kerb weight, although it really should simply be standard equipment.
My track ‘hare’ for the day and Porsche test driver Timo Klück (together
with Marc Lieb, part of the two-man team that broke the ’Ring record) says you can feel the lower weight and more than that, the extra downforce.
Regardless of the specification of your 918 Spyder, each one comes with extremely light polyurethane bumpers and very thin glass. The Spyder’s roof is also CFRP and removable by hand to be stowed away in the front luggage compartment. I don’t know how they found the space with the fuel tank, radiators, double wishbones and dampers taking up room over there.
Most of the controls you need are on the steering wheel: use the scrolling wheel to select between the five drive modes and dial it to nine o’clock for Race Hybrid. This influences all three power units as well as the shift programme of the PDK transmission, the adaptive aerodynamics and pedal pressure. The batteries in this mode are charging the electric motors at their maximum power. In fact, they feature the highest specific power among all known production batteries according to Porsche. It’s basically the Honda S2000, GT3 RS 4.0, 458 Speciale of batteries. Petrolhead? Watthead. As you can imagine, the 918 Spyder’s performance is staggering. The driving position, visibility, pedal placement, travel and pressure are just perfect. Get this right and any car is instantly better, but get it right in an already amazing car and it amplifies everything else; the response, the reaction, the reward.
And yet it’s really the lively chassis that impresses more than even Porsche’s culmination of power technology represented here in the 918 Spyder. There were some disagreements among us press guys assembled at Ricardo Tormo. Not everybody loved the car as much as I did. I agree with one judgement though – it doesn’t feel like 887 horsepower. Much less like 1,280Nm of torque. Perhaps because it’s so controllable, the power isn’t so overwhelming?
Perhaps it’s Klück, who was leading me in a 560bhp Turbo S, slipping and sliding three car lengths up ahead but leading nonetheless. So let’s spare a thought for the poor force-fed 911 ran ragged for two weeks trying to stay ahead of 918 Spyders driven by us hot-footed journalists with dashed dreams of F1 championships.
At the end of the circuit’s relatively short straight, the cars are both hitting 250kph before Turn 1, one of the fastest on the track, but still requiring massive braking effort. And through a couple of turns infield, the Turbo S actually launches quicker, gripping with its rear-weighted tyres through dips and over crests with more force.
I don’t know whether that says an enormous lot about the Turbo S or a bit less about the 918 Spyder and its questionable driver for the day. What I do know is that I drove the Turbo S at the fairy-tale Bilsterberg circuit and now the 918 Spyder here, and one is effortlessly fast, while the other is effortlessly enchanting.
Is a million dollars too much? It probably is, but where else are you getting a carbon tub and carbon subframes and a race V8 and ceramic brakes and 6:57 at the ’Ring and 80 years of sportscar evolution? Where else do you lie awake in bed days later with your eyes closed, and all you can see is a flickering green light?
Switch the 918 Spyder to E-Power mode for zeroemissions driving
INSIDE INFO Model 918 Spyder Engine 4.6-litre V8, two electric motors Transmission Seven-speed PDK, AWD Max power 887bhp @ 8,500rpm (combined) Max torque 1,280Nm @ NA (total system output) Top speed 345kph 0-100kph 2.6sec Price Dh3,294,000 Plus Old-school mid-engined dynamics for the 21st Century, race tech, new interior innovations Minus Doesn’t feel like 900 horsepower
Old-school racing dynamics mix with new technology. The result? Speed
The thin-rimmed steering wheel is just about perfect